Last week I went to New Orleans for the National Hurricane Conference. I had not visited the city since the National Hurricane Conference was held there in April 2005, four months before the city was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
The view of the city from Interstate 10 on the drive in was discouraging. Reading about the city's recovery problems is very different than seeing acre upon acre of abandoned housing stock interspersed with white FEMA travel trailers. Not only was new housing not being constructed, but the old, destroyed housing was not even being torn down. Something was definitely wrong. Nothing was happening.
The downtown, Bourbon Street area looked almost the same. There were a few buildings standing forlorn with broken windows. Yet Bourbon Street still had that interesting, raw, huckster quality that some find offensive and others find delightful. The music is great if you know where to find it and the food is fabulous.
New Orleans is a national treasure and I would hate to see the city submerged by the Mississippi river or Gulf of Mexico. Although that calamity may befall the city again, the city and state governments are still arguing about how they will evacuate the hapless citizens. I listened to the responsible officials outline the problems with getting everyone out of the city in time and I was very discouraged. They seemed to think that the task was impossible unless the federal government paid for it or supervised it or, hopefully, did both. They seem to be waiting anxiously for this to happen.
Housing is scarce in New Orleans and what little there is carries a premium price. No one is building, much less tearing down, new housing because insurance is scarce and carries a premium price. No banker will lend money to rebuild a business or a home without insurance.
The state of Louisiana officials at the conference seemed to think that even though their state regulates their insurance industry the insurance problem was a national one. They said that this national problem should be solved by the federal government, presumably by using federal dollars or passing a law whereby every policy holder in the nation will promise to help rebuild New Orleans the next time a hurricane floods the city. They seem to be waiting anxiously for this to happen, too.
Louisiana, and New Orleans, suffered a terrible disaster and are faced with a number of intractable issues in trying to rebuild their city and state. While many people write and talk about the parallels between Iraq and Viet Nam, I am constantly drawn to the equally powerful parallels between Baghdad and New Orleans.
The people of New Orleans have been traumatized and no longer trust their city, state or federal governments. The Congress has approved billions in reconstruction aid for them yet little construction is happening. The finger of blame is pointed everywhere, at each other, at Washington, but never at themselves.
The same could be said for the people of Baghdad, only their situation is much, much worse. They are stil in the midst of a war.